Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.

Has the backstop back-fired on Ireland?

by Frank Schnittger Fri Jan 18th, 2019 at 01:27:14 PM EST

The back-stop is that part of May's now half dead deal with the EU whereby all parties committed themselves formally to what they all claim to be committed to in practice: No hard policed customs border in Ireland. Initially the UK proposed to do this via yet to be invented new technology which would magically make any border controls invisible. When no practical solution on these lines emerged they proposed to do so by retaining Northern Ireland within the Customs Union and Single Market until such time as another solution to keeping the border open could be found.

This was absolutely unacceptable to the DUP as it would entail a customs border "down the Irish Sea" between the EU and UK and, in their terms, threaten the constitutional Union between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The DUP is absolutely opposed to any and all divergence between Northern Ireland and Great Britain for this reason, except when it is not: On abortion rights, marriage equality, minority language rights, transparency of political donations, animal disease controls and some agricultural product standards, for example.

Theresa May's solution to this conundrum was to propose retaining all of the UK within the Customs Union until such time as an alternative solution could be found, thus giving Ireland, North and south, the best of both worlds: unhindered access to both the EU and UK markets, and calming the fears of most of UK business about barriers to trade with the EU for the foreseeable future. This has proved to be the single most unpopular feature of May's proposed deal in the UK, and is widely blamed for it's massive defeat. But it was actually a UK proposal and a massive concession by the EU - for which it has gotten zero credit.

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Too little, too late

by Frank Schnittger Sat Jan 12th, 2019 at 12:12:10 AM EST

Over two and a half years after the referendum Theresa May has finally decided to reach across the aisle and try to build a national consensus around her Brexit deal. She has begun talking to Labour MPs who have been saying for months they might support her deal provided they receive assurances on workers rights and permanent access to a customs union. She has even spoken to a couple of leading trade unionists she has never bothered to meet in all of her political career. Downing Street had to call the Union call centre to get the General Secretary's contact details...

It is a last desperate maneuver, undertaken only because the DUP has rejected her latest attempts to get them on board. With the DUP it is always a case of "what part of NO do you not understand?" It is the end-game of her strategy, first announced in her Lancaster house "red lines" speech, to secure a parliamentary majority by appeasing her the hard core right wing Tory Brexiteers and the DUP - all the while claiming to be uniting the nation around her.

She is also beginning to lose control of the whole Brexit process with an increasingly assertive parliament demanding that she announce her Plan B within three days of losing the vote on her Brexit deal next week. Tories are incensed that Speaker John Bercow allowed amendments tying the hands of the government. But what do you expect when you don't have a written constitution and precedents are there to be set? His job is to assert parliamentary sovereignty, not protect the government.

So what are her options for a Plan B?

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A TITANIC success

by Frank Schnittger Mon Jan 7th, 2019 at 02:20:34 PM EST

Yours truly and Luis de Sousa have been using the Charge of the Light Brigade as a metaphor for the UK's brainless charge for Brexit. But perhaps it is Boris Johnson himself who came up with the more appropriate metaphor when he said that the UK was going to make "a Titanic Success of Brexit". The metaphor is all the more apt as the Titanic had been built in the famous Harland and Wolff shipyard - a fact that is now commemorated in the Titanic centre in Belfast. The DUP has also been leading the charge towards a Brexit which could well jeopardize the very union between N. Ireland and Great Britain they so claim to cherish.

It is now almost two months since Theresa May agreed her deal with the EU Council and very little has changed or moved on in the meantime as the great ship of state sails inexorably on towards a hard Brexit on 29th. March. If the 117 Tory MPs who voted no-confidence in Theresa May's leadership combine with the DUP, May's deal could well go down by over 200 votes in the House of Commons vote on January 15th.

No prime minister in history would have been subjected to such an emphatic defeat on such a major issue and survived, and yet Theresa May might fight on. Brexiteer Tory MPs effectively handed May a 12 month stay of execution when they precipitated an ill-judged no confidence motion in December and the DUP have said they will continue to vote Confidence in the Government (while threatening to vote down almost all else) for fear of precipitating a general election which Jeremy Corbyn might well win.

So we have a lame duck prime minister at the helm set on a course headed for a hard Brexit and no mechanism to change course, or have we?

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Review of 2018

by Frank Schnittger Wed Dec 26th, 2018 at 10:13:34 PM EST

We've come to that time of year when we reflect on the year that has just passed and look forward to what 2019 might bring. For most, I suspect, 2018 has not been a very positive year, with Trump, Brexit, Syria, Yemen, the Ukraine, the refugee crisis, terrorist attacks and natural disasters putting a damper on feelings.

The global economy has continued to grow, but most of the benefits still go to the already rich. Employment and wages growth has been anemic and the gilet jaune protests have highlighted the difficulties which people in even relatively rich countries like France are having in maintaining a reasonable standard of living.

Brexit has highlighted the effectiveness of divide and conquer political tactics in scapegoating immigrants, refugees, and the already marginalised for the problems which ordinary people are experiencing. Hungary and Poland have managed to compromise a free media and judicial independence and Greece is left to suffer enormous deprivation with little EU solidarity and support.

Great uncertainty leading to market volatility and political instability has been reducing investment, growth, consumer confidence, and political ambition. Most people seem to be expecting things to get worse before they can get better, and some doubt whether they will get better at all, with climate warming worsening and threatening to accelerate out of control.

So I would ask readers here take some time out from the end of year festivities to share their experiences of 2018 and hopes for 2019. Is it as bad as I have painted above, or am I missing some green shoots of a more healthy model of politics and economics taking hold? Will DiEM25 usher in a new era of transnational politics in 2019 or will hard right nationalist parties continue to make gains? Will governments start addressing economic, regional, and inter-generational inequality more effectively or are our children destined to be much worse off than we were?

Your thoughts, please.

Comments >> (43 comments)

RIP: Finbarr Flood 1938-2016

by Frank Schnittger Wed Jan 2nd, 2019 at 11:07:25 AM EST


Finbarr Flood was one of my first bosses in Guinness and taught me much of what I have learned about surviving in big business. He had joined the company as a messenger boy aged 14 and also played semi-professional soccer as a goal-keeper in both Ireland and Scotland. Having risen through the ranks to become Managing Director, he left to pursue a further career as Chairman of the Irish Labour Court, Chairman of Shelbourne Football Club, and Chair of a number of city rejuvenation projects.  Having left school at 14 he was extremely chuffed to receive an honorary Doctorate from the Dublin Institute of Technology and to become an adjunct Professor to Trinity College Dublin.

a retrospective story for the season that's in it...Originally published Jul 26th, 2016.

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The fog of war

by Frank Schnittger Sat Dec 15th, 2018 at 02:01:53 PM EST

I haven't the foggiest notion what the difference between foggy and nebulous is in the context of the confrontation between Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker which occurred on camera at the European Council summit. She accused him of calling her nebulous and he responded that he had been referring to the debate in the House of Commons, not her, and that the word he had used was "nebuleux" in French which had been miss-translated as nebulous whereas he had meant foggy.

Both mean vague, ill-defined or unclear, and that is precisely the accusation leveled at Theresa May by several heads of government after her one hour presentation which is said to have alienated and annoyed many on the Council. She told them to trust her judgement, when that is precisely what they no longer trust. You don't wrap up a legally binding deal after a long and complex negotiation only to come back looking for more changes a couple of weeks later and hope to keep your credibility intact.

EU Heads of government were quite clear that any concessions they make now - without cast iron guarantees they will enable the passage of all required legislation through parliament - will simply be "banked" by UK Brexiteers before they come back looking for more.

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The Primacy of EU Law and its implications

by Frank Schnittger Mon Dec 10th, 2018 at 12:52:12 PM EST

The European Court of Justice has found, in a clear and lucid judgement, that a sovereign state which has issued a notification (under Article 50) of its intention to withdraw from the European Union, retains the sovereign right to withdraw that notification "in accordance with its own constitutional requirements" until such time as it takes full effect.

Unlike the Advocate General's earlier advisory opinion, it does so solely in accordance with European Law as established by the treaties, without relying on "custom and practice" in international law, or the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (VCLT), which has not been ratified by the EU or France and Romania, although it notes that the VCLT "corroborates" this view.

The main arguments it uses to come to this view include the following:

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The UK can unilaterally revoke its A.50 notification

by Frank Schnittger Tue Dec 4th, 2018 at 04:59:50 PM EST

The Advocate General of the European Court of Justice has advised the Court that it should find that the UK can unilaterally withdraw its A.50 notification to leave the EU, subject to certain conditions. His finding is not binding on the Court, but it would be unusual for the Court to reject his finding in its final ruling, which could come in the next few weeks.

In doing so, the Advocate General has rejected the view of the EU Council and the EU Commission that any revocation of an A.50 notification should be subject to the unanimous agreement of the EU Council. He has also rejected the view of the UK government that the issue is entirely academic and hypothetical, and therefor should be considered inadmissible by the court.

Finally, and most dammingly, he has rejected my arguments to the effect that A.50 provides for no such right, and he goes on to quote the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties as providing for such a right, even while noting that the EU, France and Romania are not signatories to that Treaty. Instead he argues (para. 79) that the rules of customary international law are binding upon the Member States and the European Union and may be a source of rights and obligations in EU law.

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Back-stabbing the back stop

by Frank Schnittger Sun Dec 2nd, 2018 at 05:21:43 PM EST

There has been much speculation as to what will happen when Theresa May loses the Commons Brexit vote, as she almost certainly will, on Dec. 11th. Most observers don't expect that vote to be even close, with some estimating a margin in excess of 100 votes. Some speculate such a defeat will finally trigger a challenge to May's leadership. But if Rees-Mogg's co-conspirators couldn't even muster 48 votes the last time around, it seems hardly likely they will be able to achieve the 158 votes required to win a vote of confidence against her leadership and trigger a leadership election.

The downside for them is that the rules dictate that they won't be able to issue a renewed leadership challenge for another 12 Months if they fail. So they had better get it right the first time around. A lot will depend on how badly she still wants the job. So far she has won some grudging admiration even from her opponents for how she has stuck to her task against seemingly insurmountable odds.

The other downside is that the rules suggest a 12 week timeline for a full leadership challenge and the election of a replacement, which almost takes us outside of the Brexit timeline altogether. It's hard to see the EU Council extending the A. 50 deadline just to allow a Prime Minister Johnson settle into his job. They have fulfilled their A.50 obligation to negotiate an exit deal. He can take it or leave it. The internal machinations of the Tory party are none of their concern.

But there is an alternative scenario...

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Can the UK reverse the Brexit process?

by Frank Schnittger Tue Nov 27th, 2018 at 06:46:32 PM EST

The European Court of Justice is today hearing a case to determine whether a state has the right to unilaterally withdraw an A. 50 notification of its intention to leave the EU. (case number C-621/18). The Inner House of the Court of Session in Scotland decided to refer the following question in a preliminary reference to the Court of Justice of the European Union:

`Where, in accordance with Article 50 of the TEU, a Member State has notified the European Council of its intention to withdraw from the European Union, does EU law permit that notice to be revoked unilaterally by the notifying Member State; and, if so, subject to what conditions and with what effect relative to the Member State remaining within the EU'.

The Irony of the ECJ deciding on the UK's rights in this matter has not been lost on some observers, with some Brexiteers outraged the court is even considering the matter. A.50 provides that a member who has left the EU and wishes to rejoin must do so via the standard A.49 accession procedure. But A.50 is silent on what happens if a member issues an A. 50 notification and then changes their mind on the matter within the 2 year negotiation period before they actually leave, so some more clarity is welcome.

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Brexit Leadership

by Frank Schnittger Mon Nov 26th, 2018 at 01:11:26 PM EST


Arlene Foster and Nigel Dodds, Leader and Deputy Leader of the DUP.

The phrase "Brexit leadership" may seem to many to be both oxymoronic and moronic...

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This is what BREXIT IS BREXIT means

by Frank Schnittger Sun Nov 25th, 2018 at 01:09:08 PM EST

The Brexit deal has been agreed by the European Council in the time it would take to eat a good breakfast brunch in a Brussels brasserie. No point in wasting a whole day on this sort of thing. It's happening for the optics only, to send one clear message to all concerned: THIS IS BREXIT, this is the deal, we are not going to revisit it. Take it or leave it.

The House of Commons can huff and puss all it wants, vote for it, against it, amend it to its hearts content: But this is the deal. Mutti Merkel has said so. She wouldn't have wasted her time coming to Brussels if anyone was going to reopen the debate.

Boris Johnson is absolutely right: This Brexit deal is a historic mistake, and he should know. He has been the prime mistake maker: leading the UK up the garden path of delusional dreams. Nothing encapsulates that delusion more than the gap between what this deal delivers for the UK and what the Brexiteers said they would be able to negotiate in "the easiest deal in history".

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Frank's Story Index

by Frank Schnittger Tue Nov 20th, 2018 at 07:58:29 PM EST

The 485 articles I have posted on the European Tribune since Wed Nov 28th. 2007 are grouped somewhat arbitrarily under the 13 headings below with the latest listed first.

1. Human Rights (38)
2. Energy, Climate Change, Transport and the Environment (14)
3. Irish Economy (31)
4. Irish Politics (71)
5. Irish European Referenda and Elections (43)
6. Brexit (103)
7. The EU and the Eurozone (48)
8. US Politics (65)
9. Global economics, politics, foreign policy and war. (15)
10. Sport (16)
11. Personal Topics (23)
12. The European Tribune, Blogging and the Internet (14)
13. Just having a laugh (5)

Stories are listed only once even though many could have been listed under several headings. For direct access to a story please click on the titles in blue below.

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Deal done?

by Frank Schnittger Wed Nov 14th, 2018 at 02:10:14 PM EST

The EU and UK negotiating teams have finally come to a deal just in time for a November EU Summit and a pre-Christmas rush to have "a meaningful vote" on the deal in the House of Commons. There is no telling what mood conservative law makers will be in after they have been exposed to the Tory faithful back in their constituencies over the Christmas period. So the UK government strategy seems to be to get this over with as quickly as possible.

Initial reaction in the UK has been almost universally hostile even before the precise text of the deal has become known. This is where various Brexiteer delusions meet the harsh winds of reality: Boris Johnson is not altogether wrong when he claims that the deal is "vassal state stuff" with the UK continuing to be subject to some of the rules of the Single Market without having a direct say in their development over the years.

Ostensibly that has all come about because of a shared EU UK commitment to avoid a "hard" customs border within Ireland. Had it not been for Ireland's continued membership of the EU, the fate of the Irish border would not have merited a moments thought on the part of Brexiteers, and indeed it it did not occupy any media or mind space during the referendum campaign, despite the Irish government's frantic efforts to raise the alarm.

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Glimmers of hope?

by Frank Schnittger Fri Nov 2nd, 2018 at 12:54:12 PM EST

Theresa May has survived numerous threats to her leadership to fight another day after a reasonably well received Tory party conference speech and UK Budget. The mood music on both sides of the Brexit negotiations appears to be that a deal can still be done in late November or early December at the latest. The adults have entered the negotiating room and remaining differences are being chipped away. A formula of words will be found to paper over the cracks and arrive at some sort of an agreement.

The markets will breath a sigh of relief and Sterling will rise. Much of he media will hype the achievement of a deal almost regardless of the content. Dire warnings of the consequences of "no deal" have had their effect of dampening expectations and only the churlish will point out how far short the deal falls from the Brexiteer claims of "the easiest deal in history" achieved because "they need us more than we need them".

My skepticism over the prospects of a substantial deal has always centered on May's ability to get any such deal through parliament. Have expectations been reduced enough to make the deal palatable? Are Brexiteers sufficiently desperate to agree any deal so long as it gets the UK out of the EU? Will Remainers vote for a deal so obviously worse than full membership because it avoids the nightmare "no deal" scenario? Can the DUP ever be appeased?

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Brexit in Northern Ireland

by Frank Schnittger Thu Oct 25th, 2018 at 03:02:06 PM EST

Letter to the Editor, Irish Times.

A Chara,

Newton Emerson's article on Leo Varadker having a "tin ear" on N. Ireland is notable chiefly for the for the quality of the comments beneath it in your on-line edition. [Leo Varadkar continues to show a tin ear to the North, Opinion, 25/10/2018]

For all his criticism of the DUP, Newton remains of the view that Brexit is somehow just politics as usual, and the usual rules of politics should apply. But to quote WB Yeats, all has been changed, changed utterly, by Brexit.

Time was when Taoisigh had to tip toe around unionist sensitivities for fear of exacerbating a very dangerous situation. Bertie Ahern's finest achievement was his contribution to the peace process. He deserves a reprieve from political purgatory for that alone.

But the DUP's adoption of a pro Brexit policy in N. Ireland, against the wishes of 56% of it's electorate, is a full frontal attack on democracy, the peace process, the Good Friday Agreement, and all that is decent in Irish politics. To imagine it can now be business as usual in the aftermath is delusional.

Frankly, the DUP have now been written out of the script as far as the future of Ireland is concerned. Loyalists can continue to vote for them if they wish, but no one will take them seriously. What Sammy Wilson "thinks" is good for satirical and comedy columns only.

Mr. Varadker's job is to protect the interests of the people of Ireland from the very serious economic and political implications of Brexit. If that upsets some unionist or brexiteer sensitivities, then so be it. A "tin ear" can be useful in drowning out irrelevant noise. Certainly no one will take the DUP seriously outside its heartlands of north Antrim and east Belfast.

There will be no functioning N. Ireland Assembly or Executive while the current crop of DUP "leaders" are in power, and until Brexit is done and dusted, one way or the other. Not only will the DUP be sold down the river by Theresa May, they will be the laughing stock of everyone else.  

Leo Varadker can bank a few thousand extra votes every time the DUP excoriates him. Michael Martin [Leader of the opposition and Fianna Fail] must be green with envy.

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The Good Friday Agreement for slow learners

by Frank Schnittger Wed Oct 17th, 2018 at 09:42:59 PM EST

I don't like saying "I told you so" and I have a policy of not simply replicating stuff I have read elsewhere, so where do you begin when the Brexit negotiating process is panning out precisely as you expected? It's like watching a supposed thriller where every new twist has been so well flagged in advance it all gets boringly predictable. I have avoided Hollywood movies for years because the script always seems to follow the same formula to the point where you cannot identify with any of the characters and you just don't care what happens to them. The scriptwriters are just playing with your emotions and seeking to manipulate your fears.

And so we have Theresa May continuing to play out her role as the designated fall-girl, seeking to bring home a deal you just know will be rejected by the House of Commons. You have the EU Commission and Council playing out their role as the big, inflexible, bad, pack of wolves seeking to bully and disrespect the game and pugnacious Mrs. May. You have May continuing the fight even as some of her supposed warriors fall by the wayside - only to betray her by sniping at her from the ditches.

And you have the cantankerous Irish only itching for a fight and being as awkward as possible. Why can't everybody just be reasonable and get along? My sociology lecturers used to joke that "common sense" was rarely common and almost never sensible. What is obvious to some can be very difficult for others. What works in one context can be sheer madness in another.

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The Silly Season

by Frank Schnittger Tue Oct 2nd, 2018 at 03:44:02 PM EST

August is traditionally termed "the silly season" in the northern hemisphere anglophone media because that is the time when governments, legislatures, and their associated media handlers are on holidays, and newspapers are stuck with having to make up their own news. Many editors keep a stock of non-time specific stories which they can use to fill their column inches and keep their punters entertained on the beach or wherever else they feel an urge to keep connected to "the real world".

In the UK, the silly season often extends to the party conference season in late September/early October just ahead of when Parliament, the Courts and the Universities  traditionally emerged from their summer hiatus. It probably dates back to the time that September was the harvest season, and no one could be expected to be away from their country estates until the crops were safely garnered in.

And so we have the Labour Party conference where Corbyn continued his slow dance of moving to the political centre, supporting a second referendum as a decidedly second choice to his preferred option of a general election to put the Tory government out of it's Brexit misery. Now we have the Tories disporting themselves in their patriotic red white and blue colours, declaring their undying love for the Union, (the UK, that is) and telling Jonny foreigner where to get off.

It is time for the EU to get realistic, apparently, and put forward an alternative to the Prime Minister's absolutely fabulous Chequers proposals. You couldn't make this up...

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Chequers is a red herring

by Frank Schnittger Sun Sep 23rd, 2018 at 08:30:58 PM EST

In all the hullabaloo about the EU's rejection of the Chequers proposals, one little detail has been forgotten: The Chequers proposals were never going to be part of the Brexit agreement in the first place. If agreed, they would have been part of the proposals for the future relationship between the EU and UK - as contained in a non-binding "Political Declaration" - to accompany the legally binding Brexit agreement.

The Brexit agreement itself is concerned mainly with the UK's exit payment, the treatment of EU nationals in the UK and UK nationals in the EU, and with the back-stop on the Irish border.  According to all parties, that Brexit agreement has been 90% agreed, and the UK even signed up to the EU's outline proposals on the backstop in December 2017.

Theresa May only got cold feet on the deal in March 2018 when the EU produced a legally enforceable text which defined how it would work in detail.[Pages 108-116 of attached draft Brexit Agreement (PDF)]. Realizing that a failure to secure full access to the EU Customs Union and Single Market would result in some kind of customs or regulatory difference and therefore control requirements between Great Britain and N. Ireland, she caved in to DUP pressure and declared no British Prime Minister could ever agree to this.

Except she already had agreed to it (in principle).  So the row over the EU rejection of the Chequers proposals (which had already been killed off by internal Tory party opposition before they ever got to Salzburg) is nothing but a red herring to distract attention from her real difficulty with the DUP. The political declaration to accompany the formal Brexit Treaty can be as vague or aspirational as she likes, referencing Chequers, Norway or Canada +++, but whatever it contains is not legally enforceable and won't be agreed in detail until towards the end of the transition period in any case.

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The Guardian puts the boot in

by Frank Schnittger Fri Sep 21st, 2018 at 12:48:05 AM EST


The Guardian has been excoriating Theresa May for her Salzburg performance: Macron puts the boot in after May's Brexit breakfast blunder:

The spin from Downing Street had been that Theresa May's meeting with her Irish counterpart, Leo Varadkar, shortly after breakfast in the margins of an EU summit in Austria, had been "relatively warm", albeit "frank". The dawning truth later that evening was that, in a premiership littered with missteps, May had made one of her worst errors of judgment as the two leaders and their teams met in a private room in Salzburg's Mozarteum University.

Read more... (83 comments, 1427 words in story)
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News and Views

 14 - 20 January 2019

by Bjinse - Jan 14, 148 comments

Your take on this week's news

 7 - 13 January 2019

by Bjinse - Jan 9, 114 comments

Your take on this week's news

 2019 New Year Thread

by Bjinse - Dec 30, 39 comments

Threads from the threshold of the year to come,

Whispering 'it will be happier'

 December Open Thread

by Bjinse - Dec 3, 97 comments

The main reason December is so jolly is because Santa knows where all the bad threads live

Occasional Series
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Top Diaries

A Swedish government appears

by fjallstrom - Jan 16
6 comments

What happens now?

by IdiotSavant - Jan 15
66 comments

Too little, too late

by Frank Schnittger - Jan 12
83 comments

A TITANIC success

by Frank Schnittger - Jan 7
36 comments

Perils of a No Deal BrExit

by Oui - Jan 7
112 comments

Review of 2018

by Frank Schnittger - Dec 26
43 comments